In my latest YouTube video on climate change:
there were a lot of facts and figures. I wasn’t able to show the citations on screen for all of my information, so I thought I would share them here. So below is a full transcript of the video along with links to more information. This way if you have any questions or want more information on a specific point I made, you can go look at it for yourself. Some of the links are to original data, others are to websites that have compiled a lot of data together (to save me from listing all the original data sources myself because there are A LOT!) As many researchers around the world have spent their entire career studying this topic, this list of links is far from exhaustive, but I hope it is a good starting point for you. I hope you liked the video and that you find this blog informative on a topic that needs to be addressed by each of us.
Hi, as you probably noticed, I am not in my usual location. Today I am out in the beautiful Sam Houston National Forest. I thought this would be the perfect place to talk about today’s topic which is climate change.
When talking about climate change and the Catholic Church I have to start with one of my favorite stories of Pope Francis. One of the glorious things about the Catholic Church is that it has something called the Pontifical Academy of Science which is a big group of scientists from all over the world with different races, religions, backgrounds and the Church brings them together to talk about science so that the Church leaders can be up to date on the latest research so that they can then make better, more informed decisions when guiding their flock.
One member of this academy is Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, but he goes by Ram, much easier. Ram is a professor at the UC San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography and he is one of the leading researchers in the world when it comes to climate science. He had been a part of the academy since 2004 and in 2014 he was chosen to speak directly with Pope Francis about climate change. Now Francis, a former chemist himself, had read the Academy’s findings, (http://www.pas.va/content/accademia/en/search.html?q=climate+change) but he wanted to talk to someone personally. When Ram met with the pope, he simply stated, Climate change is a moral and ethical problem. Most pollution comes from the wealthiest 1 billion on the planet and the worst consequences of it are going to be for the poorest 3 billion. After just those 2 sentences, the pope turned to him and asked, “What can I do about this?”
At this point Ram answered that since over a billion people look to the pope for guidance, if he could just talk about it, in his speeches or homilies, asking the Christian people of this world to be better stewards, that alone would have a huge impact. So Pope Francis did just that. A few days later he brought it up in an address, then he talked about it on twitter, and he’s spoken about it many times since. But he did even more, went one step further. On June 18th 2015 he came out with a full encyclical entitled Laudato si which talked about climate change and care for the environment. Since then, many churches and Catholic organizations have made a significant change. In 2017 on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the pope’s namesake and the patron saint of the environment, 40 large Catholic institutions, along with the entire city of Assisi in Italy all went completely off of fossil fuels. (https://catholicherald.co.uk/news/2017/10/04/40-catholic-institutions-to-divest-from-fossil-fuels-citing-laudato-si/) (https://cruxnow.com/church-in-the-usa/2018/09/11/19-more-catholic-institutions-divest-from-fossil-fuel-industry/) These institutions included universities, banks, provinces, even a full archdiocese. They switched to greener forms of energy all over the world thanks to 2 sentences from 1 scientist and the Church’s willingness to listen to science. I love that story. But if Ram had said more than 2 sentences, or if Pope Francis hadn’t read the Academy’s findings, what are some of the facts and data that maybe Ram would’ve presented on climate change?
First, he might start off by saying: Many independent fields of research have found evidence that confirms that human activities are the primary cause of the global warming of the past 50 years. (http://berkeleyearth.org/data/) (http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/report/WG1AR5_TS_FINAL.pdf) (https://science2017.globalchange.gov/downloads/CSSR2017_FullReport.pdf) Global warming means the overall average temperature of the world has increased. This is often referred to as climate change because even as the overall temperature may rise, there may be regions that actually feel a temporary cooling. So why is this change in climate happening? The burning of coal, oil, and gas, and the clearing of forests have increased the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by more than 40% since the Industrial Revolution, and it has been known for almost two centuries that this carbon dioxide traps heat. Natural causes alone could not have caused this, and if it weren’t for these human activities, global climate would actually have cooled slightly over the past 50 years. (https://skepticalscience.com/should_earth_be_cooling.html) (https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-why-scientists-think-100-of-global-warming-is-due-to-humans)
So what is this extra heat doing? The first thing that a lot of scientists point to is the rising sea levels. (https://wxshift.com/news/graphics/global-sea-level-rise-by-century) And this rise is mostly driven by two main causes. The first is melting ice caps and glaciers. NASA says that the extent of ice covering Arctic waters has fallen by 13 percent per decade. (https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/SeaIce) The lowest ice minimums — measured each year after the summer thaw — have all been recorded since 2007. (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/22/climate/arctic-sea-ice-shrinking-trend-watch.html )When President Taft created Glacier National Park in 1910, it was home to an estimated 150 glaciers. Since then the number has decreased to fewer than 30, and most of those remaining have shrunk in area by two-thirds. (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/05/24/climate/mapping-50-years-of-ice-loss-in-glacier-national-park.html?mtrref=www.google.com&gwh=E8B92EA797E54C055E40A6D37511CDD6&gwt=pay)
The second cause of the sea levels rising is simply due to the increase in temperature. When water is heated, it expands in size. So if you have over 300 million cubic miles of ocean water and you heat it up, it’s going to take up a lot more space than it did before. Due to both of these causes, by the year 2100, the sea levels are expected to rise an average of 1-4 feet. (https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/AR5_SYR_FINAL_SPM.pdf) But this is an average, some places could rise up to 8 feet. To give you an idea of just how drastically this would change the coastlines, here are some before and after pictures of different regions of the world. In the U.S. alone, there are over 5 million people in the affected areas, places less than 4 feet above sea level. (https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/7/1/014033/meta) And as Ram said, almost all climate change will unequally affect the poorest of the poor. We can clearly see this with how much Africa (http://www.arabclimateinitiative.org/Countries/egypt/ElRaey_Impact_of_Sea_Level_Rise_on_the_Arab_Region.pdf) and Asia (http://www.sustainability.org.il/home/news-updates/15-facts-about-sea-level-rise-that-should-scare-the-s-out-of-you-0615) (https://phys.org/news/2015-03-rapid-coastal-population-growth-exposed.html) would be affected by this change. The poorest would not be able to afford to move farther inland.
This heating up of the globe affects weather patterns as well. This has led to many heat waves which then cause an increase in both droughts and major rain events. That sounds counter-intuitive, but bear with me. First of all, this increased heat leads to an increase in the levels of evaporation from the ground and plants. This means that even if the actual levels of rain do not decrease, the ground can still become more dried out. (https://www.pnas.org/content/109/31/12398) And as I said, the levels of rain in many areas are not decreasing, they are increasing. This is because warmer air can contain more water vapor than cooler air. (https://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/pdf/10.1175/JCLI3816.1) (http://sa.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/files/file/PNAS-2007-Santer-15248-53.pdf) (https://data.globalchange.gov/report/nca3) This extra moisture is available to storm systems, resulting in heavier rainfalls. (https://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/pdf/10.1175/BAMS-D-11-00262.1) This strengthening of storms also affects bigger storms like hurricanes. There has been a substantial increase in most measures of Atlantic hurricane activity since the early 1980s, the period with high quality satellite data. These include measures of intensity, frequency, and duration as well as the number of the strongest storms, cat 4 and cat 5. (https://www1.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/cmb/bams-sotc/climate-assessment-2011-lo-rez.pdf) (https://www.c2es.org/content/hurricanes-and-climate-change/) (https://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~suzana/papers/camargo_ting_kushnir_climdyn13.pdf) The recent increases in activity are linked, in part, to higher sea surface temperatures in the region that Atlantic hurricanes form and move through. All of these types of rain activities have led to an increase in flooding. In this year alone, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) has warned that 2/3 of the continental 48 could see flooding. (https://www.noaa.gov/media-release/spring-outlook-historic-widespread-flooding-to-continue-through-may) Halfway through the year, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska have all been federally declared disaster areas due to the amount of flooding. (https://www.fema.gov/disaster/4421) (https://www.fema.gov/disaster/4449) (https://www.fema.gov/disaster/4446) As with sea levels rising, these more extreme weather patterns will also unevenly affect the poor. They will be the ones who can’t afford insurance and can’t afford to replace their belongings or their homes when terrible things happen. They will be the ones who are killed in these extreme events because they can’t afford to travel anywhere else. They are the ones who can’t afford to heat their homes during blizzards or cool them during heat waves.
Now I’ve talked about how all of this affects humans, but we are not the only living creatures on this planet. Genesis tells the story of God creating everything, all of nature. At the end of this passage God gives man dominion over all of creation and this doesn’t just mean ruling it, it also means taking care of it.
The United Nations Panel on Climate Change has highlighted species that are already in decline due to climate change. Just to name a couple, there are the orange-spotted filefish who live in coral reefs and who are highly sensitive to warm water. (https://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyNET.exe/P100EU8S.TXT?ZyActionD=ZyDocument&Client=EPA&Index=2011+Thru+2015&Docs=&Query=&Time=&EndTime=&SearchMethod=1&TocRestrict=n&Toc=&TocEntry=&QField=&QFieldYear=&QFieldMonth=&QFieldDay=&IntQFieldOp=0&ExtQFieldOp=0&XmlQuery=&File=D%3A%5Czyfiles%5CIndex%20Data%5C11thru15%5CTxt%5C00000005%5CP100EU8S.txt&User=ANONYMOUS&Password=anonymous&SortMethod=h%7C-&MaximumDocuments=1&FuzzyDegree=0&ImageQuality=r75g8/r75g8/x150y150g16/i425&Display=hpfr&DefSeekPage=x&SearchBack=ZyActionL&Back=ZyActionS&BackDesc=Results%20page&MaximumPages=1&ZyEntry=1&SeekPage=x&ZyPURL) Also, there is the Adélie penguin. These Antarctic birds mostly feed on tiny crustaceans called krill who live on the undersides of ice sheets, so as the ice sheets melt, the krill are dying off meaning that there’s less and less food for these penguins. (https://www.awi.de/en/about-us/service/press/press-release/first-comprehensive-review-of-the-state-of-antarcticas-climate.html)
This change in climate also affects species that are more crucial to our modern way of life, like the ones we eat, plants and animals. Crop production, especially in the Midwest, will decline as a result of higher temperatures, drought, and flooding. (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/12/181212144625.htm) Heat stress on cows, which already cost the dairy industry billions, could potentially cause a dramatic decrease in dairy production over the next 12 years. (http://www.fao.org/3/CA2929EN/ca2929en.pdf) Another example group are oysters, shrimp, and crab whose populations are already declining due to ocean acidification. (http://www.louisianaweekly.com/climate-change-hurts-louisianas-oysters-and-shrimp/) (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141112203212.htm) To me this doesn’t sound like we are taking care of the thing that God specifically gave us dominion over.
To close, I’d like to take a second to reference the wise man C.S. Lewis. In his book, “Abolition of Man” he writes, “What we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.”
When we look at how we as humans are interacting with the world around us, it’s clear that many good things have come from us harnessing the powers of the natural world. But it cannot be understated how if we continue on this path of abusing our natural resources, it is our fellow man that will lose out. The Earth isn’t going to heat up so much it explodes, but there is clear scientific proof that it is changing quickly and it is having significant detrimental effects and these are directly caused by human actions. You personally might not be as affected by the changes in climate as others, but the Lord tells us in the 25th chapter of the gospel of Matthew that when we get to heaven, we will be judged based on how we helped or ignored the least of these. As Pope Francis put it in Laudato si, climate change is a moral problem. We, as a Christian people, must stand up and do something about it.